My snap response to the Gaza ceasefire resolution considered by State College Borough Council on Monday night was an eyeroll. 

After the requisite litany of “whereas-es,” council would, if the resolution passed, urge the Biden administration to call for a ceasefire, the release of hostages and prisoners and a “fair peace.” 

Which of course would immediately prompt an emergency meeting of the president’s advisors in the Oval Office. “Guys,” Biden would say to his inner circle, “we’ve lost State College, and when we’ve lost State College, we’ve lost America.”

His advisors would point out that Penn State can’t beat Michigan or Ohio State, so who cares what a bunch of Peach Bowl-bound Central Pennsylvanians think? 

But one of the president’s more politically savvy counselors would remind everyone that there’s an election next November. So then Biden would get on the horn to Netanyahu and say, “Bibi, baby, we’re pulling the plug.”

And then he’d have to explain that Pennsylvania is a swing state, and State College a blue islet in a red sea – no, not that Red Sea – and he couldn’t afford to alienate that little pocket of voters, given the uncanny staying power of his many-times-indicted opponent.

Which Bibi, no stranger to legal entanglements, would totally get, while hinting that in exchange for peace, Biden give him a crack at whipping those Nittany Lions into shape so they could slay the fearsome Wolverines and Buckeyes for a change. (Overjoyed Israelis would flock to Ben Gurion Airport to make sure Netanyahu got on the plane.)

My snarky reverie came to an abrupt end when Mayor Ezra Nanes called the Borough Council to order and opened the floor to members of the public who wished to speak for or against the ceasefire resolution.

I was home watching on Zoom while chopping onions, but once the proceedings got under way, I was sorry not to be there in person.

Yes, everyone was longwinded, which was too bad – in hindsight, it would have been better to allot less time per speaker so more speakers could be heard. But what an array of mostly eloquent voices! A rabbi. A woman in a hijab with children in Gaza. A couple of Penn State professors. Jews. Muslims. Parents. Students.

What was unsurprisingly clear is that it is impossible at this fraught moment to craft an unobjectionable response to the situation in Gaza. The resolution, brought forward by Councilman Gopal Balachandran, began by declaring that “all human life is precious” and went on to condemn “all acts of violence, as well as “antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism in all its forms.” 

In other words, the document tried like hell to be evenhanded – which doomed it to failure. To one side, even-handedness feels like minimizing the atrocities Hamas committed on Oct. 7. To the other side, it feels like minimizing the atrocities Israel has committed since.

As with every news story ever written about the conflict, partisans on either side are sure to take offense at this or that word or a phrase while thinking of a word or a phrase that has been inexcusably omitted. It’s exactly what makes diplomacy so hard, especially in the Middle East. 

Then there were the “stay in your lane” arguments. Municipal government’s job, the thinking goes, is to patch the potholes and keep strip joints out of residential neighborhoods, not to weigh in on international affairs. Rabbi David Ostrich even offered an alternate resolution, one that, quite sensibly, focused on maintaining a safe and welcoming community here in State College rather than on fixing what’s broken on the other side of the world.  

But the amazing thing about this special session of the State College Borough Council was that, raw as the emotions are, everyone spoke respectfully. There were no arguments, no shouting matches (not to mention shoving matches). Even those who opposed the resolution thought it well-intentioned. Even those who supported the resolution, including its author, Councilman Balachandran, appreciated the objections of those who did not.

Ultimately, the very fact that there was opposition to a document that was meant to unify dashed its chances of adoption. That was Mayor Nanes’ take, and a majority of council members agreed. A motion to withdraw the resolution carried.

You could say, therefore, that from start to finish, the entire debate was a waste of time, an exercise in virtue signaling, an empty gesture: You say you want a resolution, yeah-eh, you know, we’d all love to change the world.

But not if you’d been there, even virtually, as I was. What I saw was a diverse, passionate community and a magnificent exercise not in futility but in civics – and civility – both from the audience and from our elected representatives.

It made me gladder than I’ve ever been that I live here – even if we can’t beat Michigan and Ohio State.

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